In 2008, Radnor Township opened its new municipal building, a 50,000-square-foot, three-story glass atrium that cost $16 million.
Nearly three years later, the building stands as a symbol of better times. Now, like a family that bought a house it couldn't afford, Radnor is renting out a section of the building to bring in $40,000.
It needs every penny it can find.
Beyond the recession's burdens, the township is pinched by growing debts from past financial practices questioned by township officials.
For some residents who have long enjoyed Radnor's green space, well-maintained roads, speedy repairs, and backyard trash pickup, the depth of the township's financial problems is jarring.
In his 22 years in the township, Commissioner William A. Spingler said, this is the first time, for example, that it could not install a new sewer hookup or add a storm drain. "There's just no money to do anything," he said.
In response, commissioners voted last week to raise taxes for the second year in a row during a budget meeting where those affected by Radnor's plight awaited decisions about their future.
Two dozen public-works employees sat shoulder to shoulder in the back rows, wondering how many of them would lose their jobs before year's end. Four elderly representatives from the Wayne Senior Center stoically accepted a 10 percent decrease in funding.
Library officials, who had to swallow an $82,000 cut, fretted over the commissioners' plan to ask voters what the township should contribute to the library in future years.
The financial problems in the Main Line community are muted compared with those in less-affluent towns facing stark choices in a sluggish economy. Even so, in the view of at least one expert, relief might be a ways off.
"Government lags behind what happens in real time," said Fred Banuelos, deputy director of the Governor's Center for Local Government Services in Harrisburg. "Even when the economy begins to improve, you're not going to feel the effects immediately. It's at least a year or two behind."
Radnor began to realize the severity of its problems in 2009 when the commissioners discovered that their township manager, David A. Bashore, had paid himself and others unauthorized bonuses.
During nearly nine years, Bashore allowed $1.5 million in such payments, according to a report by the State Ethics Commission.
Commissioners also blame Bashore for a policy that allowed township employees to accrue vacation, sick, and compensatory time for a payout. The policy, which has since been revised, cost the township $1.7 million, Spingler said. This year, the township will pay out an additional $712,000.
Radnor's legal battles with Bashore since his dismissal in 2009 have totaled about $400,000 in expenses, said Donald Curley, commissioners vice chairman.
"Mr. Bashore clearly affected us," said Curley, who was elected in 2009. "But there are a lot of other aspects, like the township building, like some bad open-space purchases, using debt to purchase noncapital items. . . . The commissioners have to be held accountable for those decisions."
After Bashore's dismissal, commissioners found more problems.
Radnor owes $52.5 million in principal alone for obligations that stretch out until 2037. If the township does not pay those debts sooner, the interest will increase the cost to $90 million, according to a report by the Citizens Budget and Finance Advisory Committee.
The debt load led the committee to suggest the commissioners sell open space bought during richer years.
The debt could also jeopardize the township's long-held plan to capture a piece of Ardrossan, the 360-acre estate of the family that inspired the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story.
In 2006, Radnor voters approved a measure to borrow up to $20 million for a conservation effort for Ardrossan, which went up for sale in 2007. The advisory panel recommended that the township ask voters to repeal that measure.
At the budget hearing Monday, Commissioner Elaine P. Schaefer called open space "a long-term priority that I am not ready to sacrifice for a short-term budget crisis."
Resident Martin Heldring, a banker, responded that the budget crisis wouldn't be short-lived.
"I think we're in for a very long haul here," he said. "Everything needs to be on the table."
For Radnor, that means some new realities.
Some changes, such as the end of backyard trash pickup, are mild. Residents now must drag their trash bins to the curb, saving the township more than $500,000 in labor.
Other cuts are tougher.
In 2009, the township laid off 14 employees. Three public-works employees will lose their jobs in coming weeks.
Property taxpayers paid 11 percent more to the township this year. In 2011, the bill will be 9 percent higher.